Sunday, September 14, 2014

All the football pads on Earth can't protect you from the demands of football fans

Football has supplanted Christianity as America's supreme religion. The games are even played on Sunday. But unlike priests and pastors, football players are extended little forgiveness by the congregation.

"Get out there and play!"

Fans complain when an injured player sits out. Then they complain when he plays hurt and doesn't overcome it. Fans whinge when a guy doesn't risk his ability to walk by playing with serious injury. The person who calls in sick to work with the sniffles is often the one who screams "Get out there and play!" Apparently the team physician who sees the players week in, week out knows less about their condition than the fan sitting in the upper deck watching the game behind a pillar. Do these humps not realize they sound like the ultimate slave-driving boss?

A football game has 60 minutes on the clock; a player crippled in his 20s or 30s has five or six decades of life he'll have to live with that handicap. The NFL is littered with casualties. A serious injury occurs every few weeks. Lots of ex-players have sued the NFL for being mislead about the seriousness of concussions. I know, I know, it's typical spoiled athlete behavior to not want Alzheimer's at 39. We cheer when someone plays in the Wheelchair Games We boo when someone tries to avoid becoming a candidate for the Wheelchair Games.

Fans complain about athletes being drug addicts; part of the reason players are hopped up on drugs is because they're expected to play hurt. Which do you want: Athletes who sit out more often or athletes carrying duffel bags full of pain pills? A little Oxycontin can mean a lot more yards per carry. Life has trade-offs.

Athletes get reproached for leaving college early; it's bad for them as people, sets a bad example for the kids, blah blah blah. Ask yourself: Would YOU leave all that money on the table? An athlete - particularly a football player - can have his career ended rather easily, but you want him to play another year or two of high risk college football to fulfill your idea of what a "well-rounded young man" should be?

The whole reason people get degrees is to help them prosper. A touted college athlete can leave after his sophomore year and prosper beyond the dreams of 99% of people who graduate. But you're right, he should stay in school (where he will likely be majoring in something useless like sociology) and blow out a knee instead.

Interesting, isn't it, the way the ideals of the labor movement scurry away when it comes to sports? A janitor shouldn't have come to work with a sprained ankle, but a guy whose (literal) survival on the field depends on mobility should? College athletes shouldn't be paid despite generating millions for the colleges while putting their health in serious jeopardy? Somehow it isn't exploitation when the name tag is on the back of the uniform instead of the front.

The irony is that because football is considered such a manly sport, you're given less slack when you sit out with injury (How ironic that there is a football play called a safety?) from the world's first or second most dangerous sport. When a tennis player cramps up and plays through it, it makes the news. Cramps may be painful, but how many people do you know who have been paralyzed by cramps? Djokovic cramping up would be a lot more dramatic if Nadal were allowed to hop over the net and tackle him.

Playing football under optimal conditions can lead to permanent disability. Imagine playing with part of your body already compromised. NBA champion Willis Reed is famous for playing hurt, Every time a basketball player plays hurt, they mention Willis Reed. The pain he played through, a torn thigh muscle, though severe for basketball, would be less noteworthy in the NFL. But that hasn't stopped Reed from becoming one of the most famous symbols in all of sports for playing through pain.

Contrast that with NFL legend Ronnie Lott, who had his pinkie finger amputated to avoid being sidelined by the necessary surgery. The NFL triggers enough perverse sacrifices to keep Lott's sacrifice from being the go-to reference for player toughness. Remember that the next time you strain your back getting off the sofa to change the channel during a bad Sunday for your team.

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